FlyNiki reveals shock ash cloud compensation U-turn

FlyNiki chief Niki Lauda has ditched his plans to sue European aviation authorities over losses suffered from the ash cloud-triggered lockdown of airspace.Lauda told Austrian press today (Fri): “My lawyer gave me a success chance of 60 per cent. I saw a 50 per cent prospect of winning the court case.”The three-time Formula One champion hit the headlines a few weeks ago when he branded European aviation safety body Eurocontrol’s ruling a “pure gut decision”.His budget carrier reportedly suffered losses of around six million Euros. FlyNiki’s cooperation partner Air Berlin officially declared it lost out on 40 million Euros in March when the airspace was shut down for several days as an ash cloud from the erupting volcano Eyjafjallajökull spread across the continent.Lufthansa, owner of FlyNiki’s main rival Austrian Airlines (AUA), said its losses amounted to around 200 million Euros.Lauda claimed he decided to withdraw his law suit when his legal team found he would have to go to court against the Republic of Austria and not Eurocontrol of Britain’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VACC).”I don’t want to sue Austria,” the businessman explained, adding: “The risk of a legal action is enormous, I’ve been told by my lawyers. Apart from that, it takes a lot of time and is bloody expensive.”It is yet to be seen how the firm’s rivals react to the dramatic U-turn.AUA recently refused to rule out teaming up with FlyNiki in going to court against European aviation security decision-makers, while the Association of European Airlines (AEA) confirmed plans of their own to become active.FlyNiki is Austria’s biggest airline after Lufthansa acquired a major stake in AUA last September. The decision was regarded as an essential step towards avoiding a bankruptcy of AUA. The firm has been deep in the red for years, and is currently carrying out a drastic cost-cutting scheme. Hundreds of employees have been dismissed since Lufthansa got on board.Lauda meanwhile said his goal for this year was to overcome the three-million customers hurdle after FlyNiki registered 2.6 million passengers in 2009.